Gender may be a social construct, according to modern sociological thinking, but biologically infants prefer toys by sex long before gender identity is demonstrated, according to a paper in the journal of Infant and Child Development.
Children as young as 9 months-old prefer to play with toys specific to their own gender, the study found, suggesting that boys and girls follow different developmental trajectories with respect to selection of gender-typed toys.
The study was of 101 boys and girls who fell into three age groups: 9 to 17 months, when infants can first demonstrate toy preferences in independent play (N=40); 18 to 23 months, when they believe critical advances in gender knowledge occur (N=29); and 24 to 32 months (N=32). The researchers observed the toy preferences of kids engaged in independent play without the presence of a parent. For girls, the toys were a doll, a pink teddy bear and a cooking pan, while boys had a car, a blue teddy, a digger and a ball.
Stereotypical toy preferences were found in boys and girls in each of the age groups, even too young to understand gender. With age, both boys and girls tended to prefer toys stereotyped for boys.
To try and come up with a hypothesis for that, Dr. Brenda Todd, a senior lecturer in psychology at City University, said, “Biological differences give boys an aptitude for mental rotation and more interest and ability in spatial processing, while girls are more interested in looking at faces and better at fine motor skills and manipulating objects. When we studied toy preference in a familiar nursery setting with parents absent, the differences we saw were consistent with these aptitudes. Although there was variability between individual children, we found that, in general, boys played with male-typed toys more than female-typed toys and girls played with female-typed toys more than male-typed toys.
“Our results show that there are significant sex differences across all three age groups, with the finding that children in the youngest group, who were aged between 9–17months when infants are able to crawl or walk and therefore make independent selections, being particularly interesting; the ball was a favorite choice for the youngest boys and the youngest girls favored the cooking pot.”
Citation: ‘Preferences for ‘Gender-typed’ Toys in Boys and Girls Aged 9 to 32 Months’ by Brenda K. Todd et al is published in the journal of Infant and Child Development; DOI: 10.1002/icd.1986